Bruce Willis, film star known for his roles in « Die Hard » or « Pulp Fiction », will be retiring from acting, after being diagnosed with aphasia. Approximately one million americans have aphasia. This is a disorder that affects the ability to speak, read and write.
What is aphasia, exactly?
Aphasia can be described as a combination of symptoms that make it difficult, or impossible, to comprehend or express language. The disorder is caused by damage in the brain’s language function areas, which are normally located on the left-side of the brain. Aphasia can make it difficult for patients to engage in everyday activities. All cases involving aphasia result from neurological changes in the brain. According to Dr. Shazam, director of the Cerebrovascular Center in Cleveland Clinic, brain damage is the most common cause. However, it can also result from degenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s and dementia.
What are the 3 types of aphasia?
There are 3 types of aphasia. All of them have a huge impact on patients:
- Expressive aphasia: patients may find it difficult to form sentences or find the words that they need. They may have trouble recalling certain words. This can lead them to stop speaking for long periods of time, sometimes right in the middle, of their sentences.
- Receptive aphasia: patients may experience extreme confusion when talking to people and may not be able to understand what is being said. A patient can experience both expressive and receptive aphasia. But some people may only experience one.
- Global aphasia: is when all the four major language modalities (speaking, understanding, writing and reading) are impaired. This leads the patient to a total isolation as he couldn’t communicate with other people.
What are the aphasia’s symptoms?
Aphasia is most common in patients over 65. However it may occur at any age. Aphasia can happen suddenly, particularly after a stroke. Some people, however, develop it gradually. Their sentences are becoming shorter and shorter and their reading and writing skills decrease over time. They are often unable to understand their interactions and relationships with others. So when you feel it hard to communicate with others, you should seek for a medical diagnosis.
How can we prevent aphasia?
Unfortunately, there is no magical recipe to prevent aphasia. However, there are simple ways to improve your brain health. Maintain a balanced diet, exercise frequently, and be mindful of stroke risk factors, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and high blood cholesterol. Smoking increases your chance of developing stroke and aphasia. So please (I’m supplicating!) stop, or unless reduce your cigarette consumption.
What about treatments?
There are two main treatments:
- Impairment-based therapies, which focus on assessing and then targeting specific reading and speaking skills. This is done through fill-in the blank exercises that aim to help patients remembering synonyms or antonyms.
- Communication-based therapies aim to rebuild cognition and communication skills that patients use in daily activities. Patients would play scenarios such as ordering a meal or speaking on a video conference.
Thanks to Bruce Willis aphasia came out of shadows with, hopefully, a better medical care for patients.